By Nicholas J. Walz, USTA.com
WASHINGTON, DC - The Mall was the perfect place for kids on Saturday – not to shop, or go to the movies, but rather for over 25,000 in Washington D.C. to get active, play tennis, and meet some of their idols.
Nickelodeon’s 2011 Worldwide Day of Play (WWDOP) took over our nation’s capital with a sports and games spectacle in the shadow of the White House and Washington Monument, with the USTA providing a large forum for play with SmashZone Mobile. The inflatable 10 and Under Tennis caravan took up 20,000 square feet with four courts, including a 60-foot version where basketball All-Stars LeBron James and Chris Paul tried their hand at action on an entirely different court than they are accustomed.
The USTA wants kids to broaden their play horizons. Partnering with the popular kids TV network - who postponed programming between the hours of noon and 3 p.m. to drive home the message of the initiative - the USTA is dedicated to ensuring our nation’s youth lead healthy and positive lifestyles through physical activity.
"The great thing about Worldwide Day of Play is that the USTA is inviting all kids to participate in multiple sports," said Sue Hunt, USTA Managing Director, Marketing. "One thing we believe is to teach not to overspecialize at a young age. We want to see kids out there playing baseball, basketball, soccer, and of course, tennis."
In regards to James and Paul wielding tennis racquets and trading jump shots for drop shots, Hunt believes that the main goal is activity.
"Its really important to keep kids – of all ages – active in many sports."
The WWDOP celebration in D.C. indeed served as an all-encompassing kids activity expo, with Major League Baseball (MLB), the National Football League (NFL) and US Youth Soccer amongst the sporting bodies present. Sprinkled into the day were appearances from the casts of Nick shows such as iCarly, Victorious, True Jackson VP, Supah Ninjas and Bucket & Skinner’s Epic Adventures, along with musical performances by Fresh Beat Band and Big Time Rush.
Within the SmashZone confines, the masses were treated to a Target Challenge, hit-arounds and special guest appearances throughout the day. One rising Nickelodeon star, Cymphonique Miller of the upcoming 2012 Nick series How to Rock, even took on her famous father, rapper Master P, in a family friendly doubles match with two junior partners.
"There’s so much technology out there (to compete with)," said Miller. "Kids today can be on their phones, use the internet – but its really good to get out here and be healthy and active.
"Tennis is one of my favorite sports. These kids out here were schooling me!"
First Lady Michelle Obama appeared to the live audience via satellite on the main stage area just a few feet from SmashZone, urging kids to turn off their televisions for the day and enjoy a break from the couch or computer chair. Obama currently heads the "Let’s Move!" campaign and is a spokesperson for the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition and their PALA – President’s Active Lifestyle Award – Challenge to stay active for 60 minutes per day, 5 days per week, for 6 out of 8 weeks.
Primarily through the USTA’s National Junior Tennis & Learning (NJTL) network, more than 226,000 kids have participated in and completed the PALA Challenge – more than any other youth sports organization in the United States.
"We organized and mobilized our entire youth efforts," said Barry Ford, USTA Director of Public Affairs and Advocacy. "From our NJTL chapters, to our USTA Jr. Team Tennis Teams and up on through our Community Tennis Associations, everyone got on board and challenged our kids. They exceeded our expectations, for sure.
"This Worldwide Day of Play is a wonderful opportunity for the sport of tennis – it gives us a chance to highlight 10 and Under Tennis to the world and discuss changes in the game in how its much more accessible to younger children."